Today in history: Karen Carpenter died 30 years ago
Whitney Matheson, USA TODAY February 4, 2013
On this date in 1983, '70s icon Karen Carpenter died from heart failure related to anorexia nervosa. Thirty years later, the music she made with brother Richard Carpenter lives on — and much more is known about the eating disorder from which she suffered.
Carpenter's vibrant life and tragic death has been explored in pop culture for decades; I vividly remember watching the TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story in 1989 (bad wigs and all) and was among those who bought the 1994 tribute album If I Were A Carpenter, which featured excellent covers by Sonic Youth, Matthew Sweet, American Music Club, Sheryl Crow and others.
But perhaps the most famous — and most controversial — piece of Carpenters-related pop culture is Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, the 1987 film by now-famous director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, Velvet Goldmine).
The 43-minute film re-creates Karen Carpenter's rise to fame and death at age 32 ... using only Barbie dolls. It's bizarre, intense and unexpectedly moving. The cult flick disappeared after Richard Carpenter sued Haynes (and won) for copyright infringement, but thanks to the Internet, shaky copies are back in circulation.
Richard Carpenter, now 66, continues to promote the work he made with his sister. A few years ago he surfaced on QVC to talk about a 40th anniversary collection of Carpenters hits.